Seattle jury awards $50 million in wrongful birth case

by Walter Olson on December 13, 2013

His parents say they would have aborted little Oliver Wuth, now 5, had they been given proper genetic counseling. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

{ 16 comments }

1 Shtetl G 12.13.13 at 12:38 pm

I think the headline on this post is a little unfair. The parents knew there was a 50% chance of passing on a rare genetic disorder to their child so they had the testing done. The lab fubared the test(systematic failures due to budget cuts according to the lawsuit) and said the baby would not have the genetic disorder. The lawsuit said that it would cost 20 million over the child’s lifetime to pay for his care. The whole case is just sad but I’m not sure if it really qualifies as a classic overlawyered story about crazy settlements.

2 John O 12.13.13 at 1:13 pm

I agree with Shtetl. When I first began reading the story I thought this would be another story about crazy jury award and plaintiffs that don’t deserve. But right at the beginning the story makes clear that the parents went to the lab saying test for the disorder because if it comes back positive they were going to abort. Without knowing the facts regrading the testing and reason why the understaffing was the cause the award while higher than even plaintiff said would be needed to care for the boy it doesn’t seem so abhorent as other awards.

3 TSB 12.13.13 at 2:50 pm

So if it costs $20 Million to take care of him over his lifetime (which is actually less than that figure if your reduce it to present value, but let’s ignore that point for the moment), then why did they award $50 Million?

4 VMS 12.13.13 at 2:53 pm

I too agree with Shtetl on this one.

There is however, a bigger underlying problem. Although LabCorp. is a huge company, I cannot see that their profits for this particular genetic test come anywhere close to $25 million (their share of the verdict). Actuarially, the premium to charge for this risk is a bitch to calculate, but I would say that the premium, in view of this verdict, would swamp the present cost of the test, and essentially make any genetic test of this type uninsurable. Say bye-bye to genetic testing. Hospitals will refer such testing to an outside facility and have nothing to do with the process. And outside facilities will be reluctant to offer such testing. Or they may require 3 independent tests to go to 3 independent labs to ensure false negatives are caught.

5 E-Bell 12.13.13 at 4:14 pm

Regardless of the just-ness of the plaintiffs’ case, I think it warrants reporting for a couple of reasons – (1) the award seems a bit excessive; and (2) “wrongful birth” is still very much a controversial cause of action – only about half the states recognize it.

6 D 12.13.13 at 4:26 pm

I would be interested to see the court record. By the way both sides speak, this looks more like an emotionally driven verdict. The couple’s lawyer pounds the pulpit while the hospital pounds the facts. Again, I’m not saying that the facts actually support the defendant’s, but the rhetorical tone does.
Since I am critiqueing the lawyers, plaintiff’s council wails about those greedy corporations while collecting a very hefty fee for his part. That’s a bit thick considering the actual cost for care is 1/20th what was awarded.

7 Fred 12.13.13 at 6:36 pm

Jesus Assumption of the Risk Christ.

50% chance of passing on the trait but they still went ahead? Am I wrong on this?

8 ras 12.13.13 at 7:48 pm

See, if Obamacare had done the test, it would have been done right.

/my sides, my sides!

9 Malcolm 12.13.13 at 9:31 pm

It should be interesting in the future, when the child asks embarrasing questions, and they tell him: “We never wanted you to be born, and were planning to have you killed in utero.

10 DensityDuck 12.14.13 at 3:35 am

“50% chance of passing on the trait but they still went ahead?”

Which is why they did this genetic test, you idiot.

11 gasman 12.14.13 at 10:38 am

“50% chance of passing on the trait but they still went ahead?”
Which is why they did this genetic test, you idiot.

I think perhaps his point was that the family at least implicitly believed that they had a 50% chance of a $50,000,000 personal injury, and that perhaps it was foolish of them to rely so heavily on a single test.

In every day life normal folks take individual responsibility for precautions when the stakes are believed to be high. If the train gates are open at the crossing, only a fool would willfully not look each way before proceeding across. If the stakes of a lab test are this astronomical, obtain independent verification. Simple shared negligence.

12 Jerry Vandesic 12.14.13 at 11:32 am

“… at least implicitly believed that they had a 50% chance of a $50,000,000 personal injury …”

Actually the probability is a LOT lower than this. The chance of this kind of genetic problem slipping through would be 50% x ? (the probability of the test producing a type II error) . ? should be very small number for a reputable lab. Apparently it wasn’t, at least for this lab.

13 Fred 12.14.13 at 6:42 pm

Gasman, this isn’t the comments section on HuffPo. Save the insults.

Of course that’s why they did the genetic testing. My statement is that he had a 50% likelihood of his zygote carrying the trait and they chose to create the zygote anyway with the intention of later destroying the embryo if it had the trait. Obviously with the increased risk of miscarriage lowers the chances of a child with the trait being born, but the potential is obviously relatively high if they had already contemplated the abortion contingency. IMO, that’s a socially irresponsible and morally repugnant course of action.

14 gasman 12.14.13 at 7:19 pm

Sorry Fred,
That line in my post that appears to be an insult was a cut and past from Density Duck at 3:35 am.
I meant no disrespect to you, but suspect that Mr. Duck did. Or perhaps he was just too tired at 3:35 am to think clearly.

Anyway, my apologies.

15 Fred 12.14.13 at 8:41 pm

None needed.

16 William Nuesslein 12.15.13 at 9:47 am

The 50% number is suspicious. What people involved with genetic testing find is that everybody assumes probabilities of 50/50. Education level makes no difference, not even science and engineering training.

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